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Woolworths begins labelling its seafood in accordance with its sustainable fishing journey - 14 April 2009

Having signed the landmark WWF Sustainable Seafood Initiative's Retail Charter in 2008, Woolworths is now set to become the first major SA retailer to label its fish in accordance with SASSI's 'green, orange, red' system.

"As awareness of the need to preserve precious seafood resources grows, consumers are becoming more and more conscious of making sure that the seafood they're buying is responsibly and sustainably sourced," explains Woolworths Head of Foods, Julian Novak.

"We believe that Woolworths can play an important role in visibly driving positive change and in providing our customers with the information they need to make informed choices. There are also quite a few sustainable fish which may be unfamiliar to our customers but which offer great eating quality, and we'd like to promote these more with our customers."

The first step was the introduction last year of Woolworths Sustainable Seafood policy, which spells out the steps the retailer is taking in terms of fostering and preserving the biodiversity of the oceans in keeping with the goals of its Good business journey. "We also want to assure our customers that seafood at Woolworths is traceable and sourced from legal and well-managed fisheries," adds Novak. "Labelling our seafood in accordance with SASSI's categories, will, make it easier for consumers to make the most sustainable choice at the point of sale."

The SASSI classification system focuses primarily on locally caught seafood. Green indicates species that are the best choices as they can handle current fishing pressures. Woolworths hake is a good example of a "green" species, explains Novak. "All our trawled hake is Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified, which means that the fishery is well managed and regularly audited to ensure sustainability of this important commercial fish. This certification also considers ecosystem impacts and requires that bycatch management is in place."

Kingklip is a good example of a fish classified as 'orange' by SASSI. Says Novak, "Even though orange indicates that there is concern over the sustainability of a species, our customers can be assured that the 'orange' fish we sell are legally caught and responsibly sourced. Our kingklip is sourced from well-managed hake trawl fisheries where it is caught as part of the monitored bycatch. Kingklip will not be targeted and catches will not exceed the precautionary limits set by Marine and Coastal Management (MCM)."

The one label consumers won't see at Woolworths, of course, is red, as Woolworths does not sell any fish on SASSI's red list - that is, species that are protected and/or illegal to sell.

Seafood that falls outside of SASSI's classifications - such as farmed or certain imported seafood - will carry a blue label at Woolworths. "Even though these fish - for example our farmed Norwegian Salmon - are labelled as 'blue', we assure our customers that they have been responsibly and legally sourced from well-managed fisheries or farms."

The new labelling system is being introduced over time beginning in March 2009. Customers will start seeing the new packaging on fresh fish, with frozen, deli and canned fish to follow.

"We are hoping that other retailers will follow our lead, as sustainable use of marine resources has to be tackled at an industry level if we want to make a real difference to fish stocks in the future," says Novak.

And if consumers are shopping elsewhere or dining out? Woolworths recommends they keep the SASSI 'FishMS' information number handy. "SMS the species to 079 499 8795 and you'll receive a reply immediately to let you know," adds Novak.